Sparks fly over PM's claims

3:56pm Wednesday 16th July 2014

OUTRAGED Dudley Council leader David Sparks blasted holes in Prime Minister David Cameron’s claims the local authority was “reasonably” funded.

In an exclusive interview with the News last week, the PM said the council had £54 million sitting in reserves – inferring the money was not being spent.

But Cllr David Sparks hit back saying as much of the reserves as possible had been earmarked for spending on essential services.

He said: “All the money we have in reserves that we can spend is allocated to meet the gap between income and expenditure over the next two years.

The Labour stalwart warned that to spend it more quickly would mean bigger cuts in the following two years.

The amount of reserves held back by the council for emergencies is much less than used to be recommended by the Audit Commission.

Cllr Sparks said “financial prudence” had to be maintained and the council could not be allowed to go bankrupt.

He also rebuffed claims the council had more money to spend now than when the Conservatives came to power.

Cllr Sparks said: “The fundamental point he has neglected is that in 2010 when he came to power Dudley received £196 million from the Government in general grant and in 2013/14 after four years, £167 million. He has cut Dudley’s income by 17 per cent.”

Mr Cameron highlighted that Dudley had £3.8 million outstanding in council tax arrears, but Cllr Sparks said the borough’s collection rate of more than 90 per cent was one of the best in the country.

He said: “The reality is you cannot collect it all at once or we would have done.”

Cllr Sparks accused the PM of making the “classic mistake” of thinking that a local authority could withdraw money at will when most of it was allocated for particular spending, such as on housing.

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